I had a chance to drop by the soft opening of Lounge ON20 this past weekend, eager to see what chef Pajo Bruich was brewing up in the kitchen. I'd profiled Bruich back in early March, highlighting his flair for molecular gastronomy and other cutting-edge cooking techniques that aren't found so much around the area. Molecular gastronomy, in which the food textures and flavor profiles are re-interpreted with a bit of science, was also a big talking point at the Bee's "Table Talk" food forum earlier this month.
So what kind of food science would Bruich drop on Lounge ON20, which recently brought him on board as its new chef? Lounge ON20 has re-tooled its focus with a greater emphasis on dining, both from its bar menu and new sit-down dinner options. The room already has a much warmer feel, less Miami-esque than before, with its "floating" fireplace in the lounge and handsome tables.
Blair Anthony Robertson, the Bee's restaurant critic, will have a full run-down of Lounge ON20 and Bruich's food after they get a chance to settle in. (Grand opening festivities are scheduled for this weekend). But after an early taste of the menu, we can say Bruich and his crew are off to a solid start.
There's two ways you can go at Lounge ON20 with food. One is to settle up to the bar and order a pint or cocktail and grub on Bruich's interpretation of street tacos. They're made with Berkshire pork cooked in a slow-and-low sous vide process, with a salsa of "compressed" pineapple. Foodies will appreciate these kind of thoughtful cooking techniques, but even more importantly, the flavors were rich and tasty and just a couple of these tacos go a long way.
We wouldn't be mad at Bruich for adding a little more spice to these tacos as well. How about getting all molecular and making some kind of gel or foam based on Tapatio or Sriracha sauce?
Bruich's fondness for sous vide cooking, in which meats are sealed in airtight bags and slow-cooked in a water bath, shows up all over the new dinner menu. You'll find the Berkshire pork belly cooked this way for 12 hours and then seared as a final touch. The texture of this pork belly was purely decadent and paired well with a rhubarb "gelee." (In layman's terms, think of this as a kind of rhubarb Jell-O - and it's good). This dish shows plenty of potential, but on this night could've used just an extra hit of seasoning or another ingredient to make it shine just a bit more.
The lime cured hamachi (pictured above), which was layered with a compressed Fuji apple and topped with "Fresno chili pearls," is a winner. These red pearls are made to look like salmon roe, but instead of some extra fishiness you get a surprise bit of heat and brightness that's unexpectedly fun and complimentary to the hamachi's flavor profile.
Bruich likes to use his techniques to coax the most color from his produce, including a salad of heirloom beets (pictured left) with goat cheese and strawberries which just about burst with redness. His sensitivity to the flavors and colors of the season comes through on such dishes.
So how will all this go over with Sacramentans? That remains to be seen, though prices and portion sizes are fair. Bar foods range from $8-$12 while dinner items go from $12 to $28. If anything, Bruich offers a style of cooking that's relatively new to Sacramento - and yes, those who love posting pictures of their food will have a field day here. We look forward to seeing how Bruich develops this forward-thinking and flavorful menu.